1. The Picturesque
Looking for a beautiful and unique destination which takes you away from the grind of hectic urban life? Are you looking for somewhere to venture to that is filled with activities, with a fantastic city centre, where you can shop until you drop but also relax and unwind?
Bath in the UK ticks pretty much all the boxes.
This UNESCO World Heritage site with its sweeping, honey-stone Georgian crescents and terraces spread over a green and hilly bowl, is a strong contender for England’s most beautiful small city. The home town of famed author Jane Austen, the city is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water and original Roman style baths, making it the ultimate spa break destination for thousands of years.
It boasts England’s most complete Georgian architecture, iconic visitor attractions such as Stonehenge and Longleat Safari Park (an Elizabethan stately home set in a park which became the first safari park outside Africa), great boutique shopping, fantastic nightlife, fabulous festivals and a remarkable range of restaurants, bars and cafés.
Interesting, bite-size galleries and museums – including the Holburne and One Royal Crescent – are plenty. For those who love cosplay, a must visit is the Fashion Museum housed in the Assembly Rooms. The collection was started by Doris Langley Moore, UK’s foremost fashion guru, who gave her collection to the city of Bath in 1963. It focuses on fashionable dress for men, women and children from the late 16th century to the present day and has more than 30,000 objects with some of the earliest pieces from as far back as the 1600s.
Further afield, the main enticements are other Georgian crescents (beautiful row houses built on a curve) and, on Bath’s southern fringes, walks with fantastic views at Prior Park Landscape Garden and the Bath Skyline Walk.
At year end, Bath’s Christmas markets line the streets surrounding the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey. More than 80% of the stallholders are businesses from Bath and the surrounding area. From handmade wooden toys and crafted candles, to tasty cheeses and funky jewellery, you’ll be able to find something for everyone as you soak up the sights, smells of wine and fresh pies and sounds of cheerful carols as you wander around.
If your holidays take you to Zurich, Switzerland, then the picturesque Colmar, a 2-hour drive away, is definitely worth a visit. This 13th century town remains practically unchanged over the centuries.
Walks will lead you to quaint half- timbered buildings typical of Alsatian architecture; colourful fishermen’s houses on the Quai de la Poissonnerie to lovely old burghers’ houses of the 16th and 17th centuries on quaint cobblestone streets and Venetian style canal-side neighborhoods. You may even come across a familiar sculpture - for this is the birthplace of the famous sculptor Bartholdi, who created New York’s famous Statue of Liberty. For epicurean and wine connoisseurs, this quaint town has no shortage of Michelin starred restaurants to tickle your taste buds.
2. Medieval Markets
If you love pasar malams on our island, you will be enchanted by the medieval Christmas markets in Europe. Did you know that Christmas markets originated in Germany and Austria? The first of these were held in Vienna (1294), Bautzen (1384) and Dresden (1434). In time, the festive spirit took over the entire world, turning numerous city squares into Christmas markets in December.
Cologne & Nuremberg Germany
Cologne (aka Koln) has a total of four Christmas markets spread across the city and attracts about 2 million tourists per season.
Köln’s massive Gothic cathedral dominates the central square, creating a fairy tale-like scene. A time-warped feel is given by the wooden stands, filled with various festive objects and warm food.
Nuremberg’s Christmas market is Europe’s largest, and takes over the entire town center during the month of December. Its 200 or more stalls can challenge even shopaholic champions, but it’s much more manageable by day than by night, of course. Be assured that you won’t find any fake, mass- produced items here as their market council is said to ensure that only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold.
As you wander through, enjoy the tempting aromas of mulled wine along with gingerbread, sausages and sweet roasted almonds,
all in an unforgettable holiday atmosphere in the Old Town, decorated in all its Christmas glory. Kids, and the kid-at-heart, will love the Toy Museum as well as the magnificent two-tiered carousel based on old originals – complete with reindeer and Father Christmas sleighs. For those who rank shopping high on their list of things to do during their vacations, you can certainly shop till you drop!
And if you are really mad about markets, there are river cruises along the Danube which stops at five of the cities with some of the most famous Christmas markets
in Europe: Nurenberg, Regensberg, Passau, Vienna and Budapest!
3. Heritage Holidays
Yearn for some traditional Christmas cheer but tired of the crowds? Take the road less travelled to heritage-rich cities such as Genoa in Italy!
Mention Genoa and most people think Columbus, port, Paganini and pesto! But, this historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage historic site and one can only explore it on foot. The maze of narrow, winding streets is full of history from the 12th century there is the San Lorenzo cathedral with its unusual black and white façade, Christopher Columbus’ childhood home and sumptuous palaces lining the streets. The regenerated port area has Europe’s largest aquarium and a huge glass biosphere full of tropical plants and animals.
The Renaissance and Baroque palaces on the Strade Nuove, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, were listed on the Palazzi dei Rolli – a register of dwellings offering hospitality to kings on state visits. A staggering 46 (of 163) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and three are now galleries. Palazzo Bianco has paintings by Luca Cambiaso, Rubens and Caravaggio, while Palazzo Rosso has a wonderful collection including works by Van Dyck and Veronese. Palazzo Tursi, now the City Hall, holds one of Paganini’s violins as well as, reputedly, Christopher Columbus’ bones.
At the end of the year, the Genoa Christmas Market takes over the entire historic Piazza Caricamento and it is transformed into a 1000- AD medieval village complete with artisans and craftsmen, all dressed in medieval clothes, displaying their skills to visitors. There are even farms with cows and donkeys where children are taught how to milk the animals. Visitors can buy local produce including wine, cheese, meats and handmade crafts and watch the shows on the central stage, which include dancing, choirs, medieval storytelling and musical performances.
Indulge in a designer shopping spree on Via Roma for its famed Italian branded fashion or sniff out antiques within the old palazzi, tiny art galleries and a wonderful interiors emporium. Don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, once home to the Doges who ruled Genoa during the Middle Ages, which is now an arts complex containing bookshops, restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries, hosting regular photography and art exhibitions.
There’s a phrase in Genoese dialect meaning ‘He who tastes minestrone will never leave Genoa’, but there are also plenty else to tickle your tastebuds. Try farinata – a delicious chickpea pancake ‘con bianchetti’ (with whitebait) and pasqualina, a traditional pie of artichokes, eggs and Parmesan.
It’s easy to combine Christmas celebrations with sightseeing in Bruges. Wandering through the medieval town, Belgium’s undeniable crown jewel, with its historic buildings, picturesque canals, winding streets and charming bridges is a treat itself. The annual Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, showcasing amazing creations made out of 300 tons of ice and some 400 tons of snowflakes by 40 artists will feature the theme “Land of the hobs” this year, taking you into the mythology of dwarves, elves, fairies, hunters, magicians and devilish figures in a world that is as fantastic as it is mysterious. Add in a cuppa of hot cocoa in this chocolate lover’s paradise and you’ve got the Christmas to remember for a lifetime!
4. Summer Sweater Weather
Awaken the explorer in you! Head o for an expedition to the polar wonderland – Antarctica. This is where year-end is summer, the warmest time to visit this land of giant icebergs where you can witness wildlife at its liveliest! See penguins shuttle between the sea and shore keeping their furry chicks fed; the crabeaters and Weddell seals patrolling the bays or stopping on ice floes for naps and humpback whales filling the protected channels to feed. Forget about running out of time enjoy close to 24 hours of daylight over at Antarctica!
If your trip includes a visit to the research stations, go participate in the American Amundsen/Scott base’s “Race Around the World” that takes place on Christmas Day. All manner of transport is used to “travel around the geographic South Pole” in passing through all time zones and lines of Longitude, you would have raced around the world when the course actually goes around three times and covers a mere 3.2 km!
Besides visiting islands with some 1/4 million penquins, another spectacular highlight is viewing icebergs sculpted by constant wind and wave action into fantastic shapes, revealing more shades of blue than one can possibly imagine. Once back on S. American soil at its southernmost tip of Punta Arenas, you can also extend your journey to the magnificent region of Patagonia in Chile.
For nature photo bu s, a three day visit to Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Patagonia, Chile brings you to 250,000 hectares of breath-taking wilderness: glaciers, snow-capped peaks, beautiful blue green lakes and forested valleys. Pamper yourself at spa lodges and get in some adventure! Sail to the magnificent Grey Glacier, ride a horse to the Laguna Verde and hike alongside the towering Cuernos del Paine and the southern shore of Lago Sarmiento with its bizarre lime formations.
For more spectacular natural formations, go to Lake General Carrera – home to one of the most if not the most – beautiful cave networks in the world. Formed over thousands of years by the crashing waves of the lake, Chile’s Marble Caves are some of the most intricate. Prepare to be genuinely awe-struck when you see the spectacular light show put on by the lake’s glacial azure waters reflected onto these marble formations.
Illumination of the Christmas light at Shiodome
5. Go for the Glow!
For urbanites who love Christmas lights, a city famed for o ering magical Christmas atmosphere is Vienna. Said to be the city that first patented the snow globe, it has twinkling holiday decorations covering imperial architecture, outdoor Christmas markets. The tradition of balls is also deeply-rooted – more than 300 balls are held annually, including the Opera Ball and the Bonbon Ball, a reminder of how after the defeat of Napoleon, this city was the diplomatic and entertainment centre of the world. Their Christmas markets are best visited at night when the trees are illuminated with red hearts and hot air balloons, the most extravagant market spreads out under the latticed stone arches and 100m-high tower of the city’s neo Gothic town hall, the Rathauspark.
If Vienna is all things vintage then Tokyo is all things techno. For those on a diet, feast in for the city’s spectacular illuminations and store windows. The entire city literally shines with thousands of illumination lights which will undoubtedly warm up your heart in the chilly December evenings. The visual magic of the illuminations changes Tokyo’s landscape entirely, and guarantees that Christmas is one of the best times to visit Japan! The best and the brightest lights can be found at Roppongi and the Shiodome. Roppongi at Tokyo Midtown has the Starlight Garden, a football field-size space with a light display set to music which runs continuously from 5-11 p.m. daily.
Another spectacle can be seen at Caretta Shiodome near JR Shimbashi Station. The small space in front of the skyscraper is fully covered with mystical blue lights. The theme of the visual performance changes every year too and often includes interaction with the visitors– including an impressive illumination tunnel with a fortune-telling bell for couples! For more glow, head over to Tokyo Dome City, lit by more than 2 million LED lights!
For the little ones and the child in all of us, there is always Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea which beckon with their ever spectacular “Christmas Fantasy” (Disneyland) and “Christmas Wishes” (Disney Sea). And even if you find yourself at the usually staid business district of Marunochi, you will find that it is also decorated, often with Disney characters.
Regardless of whether your year-end holiday trip enhances your yuletide nostalgia with traditions, photographic gems, twinkly lights, gastronomic treats or far-flung snow lands, an unforgettable holiday can be enjoyed in these diverse, exceptional places which are bound to get you into the spirit of taking o !
"Source: PRIME magazine Issue Dec-Jan 2016. Reproduced with permission"
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